The Wrestler

the-wrestler2

Darren Aronofsky’s films (Pi, Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain) have thus far left people divided in their love for him. He makes those love ’em or hate ’em kind of movies. I have a feeling that Aronofsky’s newest, The Wrestler, might change all of that. It’s not nearly as wacky, confusing, or headache inducing as his others and has a touching story that a lot of people can probably connect with.

The Wrestler stars Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging wrestler who is coming to terms with the reality of his life. He’s getting too old to wrestle, his family is gone, and he has no real friends. The closest friends he has are his much younger co-wrestlers, his pre-teen neighbors, and a stripper he maybe-kinda-sorta has a thing for (played by Marisa Tomei), none of whom he’s actually very close with.

Aronofsky has a running theme in his movies where he tries to make the audience feel as depressed and defeated as possible. He hasn’t made anything that would be considered a “feel good film” and The Wrestler is no different. We follow Randy through the depths of his tragic life and it’s filmed in such a realistic and intimate way that it almost feel like we’re watching a documentary.

The Academy gave The Wrestler a couple of nominations (Best Actor & Best Supporting Actress) and had this past year not already been filled to the brim with absolutely outstanding movies, I’d have expected this to receive a Best Picture nomination as well (and perhaps even win the award). The Wrestler is simply fantastic and it can still be appreciated even if you’re not a fan of wrestling or Darren Aronofsky.

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Let the Right One In

Eli, the vampire next door

Eli, the vampire next door

Let the Right One In is not a horror film. It really isn’t. Sure, there’s a vampire. You’ve got me there. And people get killed. And it isn’t pretty. Still. Let the Right One In is less about horror, and more about finding someone who will stick by you. No matter what. It’s about connections between people that transcend everything.

Let the Right One In is a Swedish film based on a 2004 novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist and centers around the budding friendship between Oskar, a bullied twelve year old, and Eli, the vampire who moves in next door. The film is shot on a stark, snowy Swedish landscape, creating a heightened sense of isolation throughout.

I’ve heard a lot of folks say that Let the Right One In is what Twilight should have been. That’s pretty much bulls**t. Twilight is what it is–a teen romance starring sexy, romanticized vampires. It’s a fantasy. And it’s pretty damn good fantasy at that.

Oskar considers the school bully.

Oskar considers the school bully.

Let the Right One In is something else completely. Sure there’s a vampire. That’s about where the similarities end. The relationship that forms between Eli and Oskar is not idealized. It is not romanticized. It is not sexy. I can’t even say for sure that it’s beautiful. But it is real. And it is honest. And for that reason, the film transcends the trappings of the vampire genre. You don’t have to be into vampires or horror to love this movie. And the cinematography and score alone are enough to make any film lover drool. Combined with a fantastic script, and brilliant acting from the two leads, and it all adds up to something quite special.

Let the Right One In is playing in the CinemaSalem screening room starting March 27th.

Watchmen

Watchmen - Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman - 49x HQ (14) by gr8tfate.

I should start by saying this: Before the release of the trailor for the film, I had never even heard of “Watchmen” (I know: Judge me). Despite my minimal knowledge of this apparently well loved comic series, I joined my CinemaSalem compadres at the IMAX midnight premiere. As I looked around at the long line swerving around the lobby full of fans hoping to get their ideal viewing points (our goal was “middle middle”), noted their t-shirts and complex conversations about character motivations and current day correlations, I realized that not only have many people heard of “Watchmen”, but many people LOVE “Watchmen”. When cinema employees passed the time by asking trivia questions about the comic, I felt like I was at a taping of ‘The Price is Right’ as hundreds of fans debated over how many Nite Owls there had been while holding up fingers and screaming to the emcee. With each questions asked, dozens of copies of the novel would fly out of bags and backpacks for reference and hands would zoom in the air, each person desperate to prove his or her own devotion. This is not a world I am a part of and I realize that alone is reason why I have no business critiquing “Watchmen” as a story or idea. Without having read the graphic novel first, I don’t feel that I can comment on the film’s content. Out of respect for all of the devotees I joined at the midnight premeire, I couldn’t do that. I do, however, have a few cinematic based critiques of the film that I feel are well within my territory as an overall “Watchmen” outsider.

My overall opinion of the film? Gratuitous. Everything about it. It was just excessive. Too much violence. Too much blood. Too many naked scenes (particularly of men, but more on that later). I’m not a prude, but my issue in this particular instance is that I felt the focus of the film overall was on the visual aspects instead of characterization and content. We all know Zack Snyder can make film that looks awesome, but at least “300” was a straightforward story. The concept behind “300” was simple enough to have a basically visual focus. From what I can tell from “Watchmen”, however, the story seems too dense to share the stage with Snyder’s exessive visual bits. The visual and cerebral were in competition for me, and more often than not, the visual won. I know that, as someone unfamiliar with the story, there were things that went over my head and I felt like Synder didn’t let anything process with the audience before jumping to the next visual circus to completely distract us. I’m sure he was doing his best to fit as much information into the film as a whole, but cutting out even half the times we were watching three characters just be naked would have given him at least 10 minutes for a little more story.

While we’re on the subject of nudity, I have to say Synder’s depiction of gender relations and women is pretty disappointing to me. Yes, in both “300” and “Watchmen” there is a long (probably too long) “love” scene where both couples seem to share a respectful relationship. But, in both films there are also incredibly unsettling rape scenes that completely demean women. The female characters in both of these films are very strong and authoritative in pretty extreme ways–one is a queen and one is a superhero, for crying out loud! Doesn’t get much stronger than that. Yet not even these women can conquer the almighty male’s dominating presence. It seems Snyder himself takes issue with the idea that women are just as powerful as men, and likes to remind his audience of where his particular gender preferences lie by not only beating and raping the women, but buy glorifying and perfecting the male form by way of super-jacked Spartans and giant blue genitals. He’s giving the impression that he thinks men are way better than women as a gender. The contrasting sex scenes present in both movies seem to say, “I love how sexy women are! I just don’t like when they think they’re as good at everything as I am”. And that’s a really lame impression to be giving off.

As far as acting goes, I felt that everyone pretty much pulled their own weight in the film. Everyone seemed to pull off their roles well (again, with my elementary knowledge of these characters) and there was nobody that really felt out of place or lagged behind. In my opinion, Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, and Jackie Earle Haley were the standouts in an all around strong cast.

I simply cannot write a review of this film without mentioning my utter disgust at the poor taste Snyder displayed during the film’s introduction. I, and America, who has just welcomed a new President who will infuse hope, respectability, and change in this pretty damaged country, did NOT need to see Kennedy’s face get blown off. This, I feel, was Snyder simply showing off. As if the audiences are going to say, “Wow! Look how great those special effects are! You can actually see the brains flying out of one of our most beloved president’s head!  Awesome!” I found it completely inappropriate, disrespectful and unneccesary. It’s one thing to feature excessive violence using fictional characters; it is quite another thing entirely to gorify one of the most horrific events in America’s political history. For shame.

As someone unfamiliar with the story, I had a lot of questions. Why were the superheros outlawed? And, if they were outlawed, why was Dr. Manhattan an exception? Where did these characters come from? If these “superheros” were really just regular people, why did they have superhuman strength? Were these characters good guys or bad guys? Even the otherwise all-around good Nite Owl and Silk Spectre unnecessarily mutilated a group of muggers for no other apparent reason than they could. All of my unanswered questions frustrated me, and left me with the feeling that this movie is only meant for people who already know all the answers and is not trying to seek out new fans, of which I was hoping to be.